My team keeps missing deadlines, what can I do?

Posted in Leadership, Mentor Minute, Teams

My team keeps missing deadlines, what can I do?

The Globe and Mail, Oct. 01 2012

The Question:

I lead a team of five people in an IT company. I consistently seem to butt my head against the same thing. We make plans, decide who’s going to do what, but then consistently fall short – miss deadlines a bit here or there. The result is that we seem to keep lowering the bar, ever so slightly. What can I do to increase the accountability on our team?

The Answer:

Accountability, and the lack thereof, is a consistent theme for many organizations. You hear the word all the time, with varying levels of understanding of what is needed to be successful. While many teams are used to looking to a leader to hold them accountable, the great teams know how to stand shoulder to shoulder, peer to peer, and hold each other accountable rather than waiting for the manager or boss to pipe up.

This is what Patrick Lencioni was talking about in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The fourth dysfunction he describes as “avoidance of accountability.” When team members avoid holding each other accountable, standards start to drop as a result. People are let off the hook for not meeting their deadlines.

Many people avoid holding their peers accountable because it can feel very uncomfortable to call out their colleagues. Instead, we have become accustomed to going to the manager or team leader to ask them to crack the whip instead. But when they are not available, or consumed with other tasks, the system falls apart if we don’t get in the habit of holding our peers accountable.

So how can you overcome this dysfunction?

Set clear roles and responsibilities.

First, you need to set really clear guidelines on what is expected. People need clear roles and responsibilities to ensure everybody on the team knows who is responsible for a task. Get into the habit of asking the following:

· What needs to be done?

· Who will do it?

· By when?

· How will we know it’s done?

This method forces the team to avoid ambiguity and get crystal clear on the next steps.

Set accountability appointments.

In every coaching engagement with my clients, there is always some form of homework given at the end of a meeting. To ensure my clients get the results they are looking for, it’s critical that they take action where they declare they want to see change. To support them, at the start of the next meeting, we always begin by checking in on the homework: Did you do it? What did you learn? If not, what is in the way? This built-in accountability is one of the reasons why coaching is so effective at creating results. My clients often tell me that they did their homework only because they knew I was going to call them to task the second we began our next meeting.

To replicate this in your workplace, simply set up accountability appointments to follow up on status of work. For fear of being considered a micro-manager, many leaders go too far in their delegation of tasks, and once something is delegated, often wipe it completely off their minds or to-do lists. The key is to circle back around with the person delegated the task, by setting up an accountability appointment to make sure the job is complete. You’ll be amazed how much gets done.

Create more team versus individual goals.

When everyone has their eye on the same prize, it’s amazing how a little peer pressure from your colleagues will force you into action. Team versus individual accountability is a powerful thing. Set shared targets so that it is in your team’s best interest to both support each other in the achievement of a task, as well as hold each other accountable when necessary.

Change your mind-set and be curious about accountability.

Don’t think of accountability as punishment. We do not need to be like our parents were: “If you don’t help set the table, there will be no dessert for you;” or our teachers: “If you don’t hand in your homework tomorrow, you will fail this assignment.” Think of holding someone accountable as a tool for learning. If a task is not completed on time, ask some probing questions to find out more and raise the bar on performance:

· How do you want me to hold you accountable?

· You said you were going to take this action, and you did not. What is your plan now? In the future, what would need to happen to ensure the task is completed on time?

· What is the impact on others of you missing this deadline?

By following these methods, you will be able to take your team to the next level.

Katie Bennett is a coach and speaker and head of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.